If there is a stage available, Hugh Jackman will be on it.
He might be wearing snug black tuxedo pants and a silver jacket, leading a cadre of dancers through a stomp-and-clap routine for “The Greatest Show.”
Or maybe he’ll frolic in a zippy red and white shirt, shaking maracas while embodying the spirit of Australian entertainer/songwriter Peter Allen.
Perhaps he’ll embrace his inner Gene Kelly, twirling an umbrella while airily bounding down the catwalk for “Singin’ in the Rain” or furrow his brow and flex his chiseled jaw for the dramatic close-ups that accompany “Valjean’s Soliloquy” from “Les Miserables.”
With Jackman, it’s all possible.
On Wednesday night, the polished actor/singer flexed every muscle – literally and figuratively – with his two-act extravaganza, “The Man. The Music. The Show,” at a nearly sold-out State Farm Arena.
Though the production bears a pompous title, Jackman, a tremendously fit 50, oozes self-deprecation. He’s charming and thoughtful, making even his scripted patter sound heartfelt, and a mischievous grin is never more than a fist-thrusting chorus away.
Jackman is an endearing chatterbox, a guy who researches the city he’s playing – though Atlanta is familiar territory, as he reminded the audience that he filmed two movies in the city (“Front Runner” and “Prisoners”) and has friends in Marietta – and makes an effort to engage.
His hugely successful arena tour launched in Europe in May, spun through 10 North American cities before Atlanta and will zigzag between his native Australia and another round of U.S. dates through October.
No one will quibble with Jackman’s bonafides as a performer, but to witness the many generations he appeals to – both a young boy in “The Greatest Showman” ringleader outfit and a mature woman who tossed him Mardi Gras beads captured his attention – is impressive. Even a handful of men in the crowd who needed to assert their masculinity woofed in appreciation when Jackman mentioned his Wolverine character.
Few are the shows when a rendition of a “Dear Evan Hansen” favorite (“You Will Be Found”) can share a setlist with a medley of Allen-penned hits (“Arthur’s Theme [The Best That You Can Do]),” “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and the fabulously kitschy “I Go to Rio”) and the showstopping “Soliloquy” (from “Carousel”).
During “You Will Be Found,” which Jackman began seated behind a black Yamaha baby grand piano – yes, of course he also plays the piano, because…why not? – he was joined by members of OurSong: The Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chorus, who were situated in every nook of the stage. As the orchestra backing Jackman throughout the show swelled, the heavenly vocals of the chorus added richness to a ballad that shuns alienation for triumph.
While Jackman’s vocals were brawny enough to carry “All the Way” (his wedding song with wife Deborra-Lee Furness, he noted) and his lung capacity robust enough to rattle off the lyrics in “I’ve Been Everywhere,” the venue was often filled with disconcerting echoes.
This production is Jackman’s own Broadway spectacle, and although his talents can ably command a room of 15,000, it’s an experience that might play better on Broadway merely for an enhanced sonic experience.
But until that happens – and really, it should after he tackles “The Music Man” revival next year- fans can revel in Jackman’s infectious presence.
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